Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado” is a frightening example of a person, endeavoring to avoid punishing a person through legal means, and would rather resort to a personal manner of inflicting the righteous retribution. What makes this story all the more frightening is the lack of explanation on why the narrator feels so extremely insulted by his victim, but in a sense, this idea delves into the very core of human relations and to what extent one would go to seek revenge. Thus, by using the murderer as the narrator, Poe is depicting his story through the lens of an unreliable narrator, making it even more frightening, while using the two, the murderer and his victim, to portray the fact that they can both be sympathized with, depending on the point of view the reader adopts.
Initially, the reader is not told the narrator’s name, this information is revealed only at the end of the story. The narrator is himself the murderer. Thus, if he is capable of murdering a person, without giving his audience a highly plausible reason for doing so, it might be concluded that he is not to be trusted. Simultaneously, if the entire story is merely the narrator’s fabrication, then again, it is inadvisable to put our trust in his words. The names of the characters, Fortunato and Montresor, seem almost imagined, possessing certain poetry within them, almost like Montresor is concocting the entire story and is using the names to reveal this fact to the shrewd readers. Still, whether the story is true or not, this fact bears little consequence as to the narrator’s reliability. All of the information mentioned previously makes him a highly unreliable narrator, one whose story and its validity should be taken with a grain of salt.
As the narrator is also the protagonist, the murderer, the gravely insulted Montresor, he is depicted as an unsympathetic character, not the one whose plight we understand and condone, rather he is a character we can relate to on a certain level. For instance, even though Montresor is a wicked person, who is the physical embodiment of all that is worst is human beings and what happens when one allows for his lowest instincts to take over, the reader still cannot afford the privilege of denying that all humans feel hurt and desire retribution at one time or another, to make the other person feel exactly how he has made the victim feel. These vengeful urges are something that is a normal part of the human existence, but fortunately, not all humans decide to follow these urges and subject their actions to them. Montresor, on the other hand, cannot handle his insult like a real man, and he decides to remain true to the motto of his family, written on his family shield, stating “nemo me impune lacessit,” meaning no one attacks me with impunity (Poe 187). Thus, he claims that “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser” (Poe 185).
In the end, when deciphering Montresor’s character, it is left to decide whether his story is one where a murderer is proud of his crime and feels a grand desire for revealing his deed to someone, to anyone, or is it a confession of a guilty conscience. His words do not divulge the answer, so the reader is forced to look within his own conclusions for it. Still, this is another trait that makes Montresor not simply monster who commits murder in cold blood, but gives him a more humane note, as most humans feel the need to confess if they have done something wrong, or if they have something they are proud of, they also feel the urge to tell someone and be acknowledged. In either case, the desire for telling, revealing a secret is there, which is what makes Montresor one of us.
His unfortunate victim, ironically named Fortunato, or the lucky one, may at first glance be the preferred character of the reader, but on a second glance, he is also not the utterly innocent victim that he appears to be. First of all, he is a wine lover, and he is already drunk when Montresor meets him, thinking himself so extremely fortunate on discovering Montresor has Amontillado. All of this leaves him vulnerable to Montresor’s vicious attack. In addition, he appears to be blind to the fact that Montresor is mad at him, something that does not require a shrewd mind to notice. But, since he was drunk at the time, it is easy to say that he missed this very important fact that cost him his life. Also, he appears to be drinking Montresor’s wine, not even thanking his gracious host who opened a golden opportunity of an Amontillado to him. This insensitivity and lack of insight into human character will be his downfall. Additionally, Fortunato falls prey to his own pride, in not wanting to allow his competitor, Luchesi, to have the first chance to taste Montresor’s Amontillado. Thus, even though he is the victim and should be sympathized with more than Montresor, he is still not the finest example of a human being. Nevertheless, he does not deserve the fate he was dealt.
Consequently, Poe’s short story is a striking example of a cruel and vicious murder done for no apparent reason, or at least not one that is divulged to the reader. Exactly because the narrator is so unreliable, the story reaches a whole new level of what really happened and why. Simultaneously, both characters are shady, one more than the other, but still, the reader cannot but sympathize with the predicament poor Fortunato finds himself in. Whether Montresor’s actions are condoned or condemned, is left to the personal conclusion of every single reader.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Doubleday, 1966. Print.